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Bill Ziskin

Season Outlook: Women's Basketball 2017-18

UAlbany Sports Information   11-07-2017

ALBANY, N.Y. – For the second consecutive season, the University at Albany women’s basketball program will have to replace one of the top scorers in program history.

Head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee enters her second year at the helm after leading her team to a 21-12 overall record last season, culminating in a sixth straight America East title and NCAA tournament berth. The Great Danes drew top-overall seed Connecticut in the first round, falling to the Huskies 116-55 to end the season.

“There’s a comfort this year that didn’t exist last year,” said Coach Mac. “My staff all knows each other, the team knows the staff, and we know the players. We have a freshmen class that we recruited, and everybody returning knows what we’re doing because we have the same expectations and the same style that we did last year.”

Last year, the Great Danes had to fill the shoes of all-time scoring leader Shereesha Richards. This year, it is Imani Tate, second in all-time scoring, the team will have to replace. Combined, Richards and Tate scored 4,002 points in their UAlbany careers.

“Our players have embraced the fact that anyone can step up on any given night,” said Coach Mac. “Everybody on the floor has a green light within their role.”

The 2017-18 squad features nine returning players from the team that won a record sixth-consecutive America East title in 2016-17. That team also broke the record for consecutive America East tournament victories, accumulating a total of 17, surpassing the previous mark of 15 set by Maine from 1995-99.

“The returning players have a level of expectation and an accountability that they hold one another to,” said Coach Mac. “They understand that to play at a championship level they have to do things in practice at game speed. That’s not always easy, but the best thing about having teams that have championship pedigree is that they know how to be consistent and go hard no matter what they’re doing.”

Beyond Tate, who was the leading scorer on the team last season, averaging 19.1 points per game, the Great Danes will look to replace Bailey Hixson, last season’s third leading scorer, as well as Cassandra Edwards, a two-year team captain.

“We obviously lost scoring and a certain leadership with the players who graduated,” said Coach Mac. “But when you have people graduate who were good in their roles, there are players behind them learning from them. Our senior class now learned from the players who graduated in terms of how to act. The great thing about good leadership is that you’re growing new leaders with each graduation year.”

Jessica Féquière leads the 2017-18 squad. In 2016-17, Féquière led the team in rebounding and ranked second in scoring. Her efforts earned her a spot on the All-Conference Second Team, and she was named a 2017-18 Preseason All-Conference selection.

Mackenzie Trpcic leads a young backcourt that features two point guards, including Khepera Stokes, who surpassed the previous freshman single-season assists record last year. Trpcic currently holds the record at 103, having wrested it from Stokes who surpassed it first last year and finished with 95. Stokes underwent hip surgery in the summer and is expected to sit out the entirety of the non-conference schedule. 

Senior Tiana-Jo Carter and junior Heather Forster will anchor the frontcourt. Carter, who was named America East Sixth Player of the Year two seasons ago, recorded 43 blocks last season, bringing her career total to 119. She is only 32 blocks away from the program record set by Gia Sanders. Forster started 30 of 33 games for UAlbany last season, recording 31 blocks of her own.

Redshirt-junior Bose Aiyalogbe returns as the team’s primary perimeter defender. Chyanna Canada will look forward to a full season after sitting out the first half of 2016-17, while sophomores Alexi Schecter and Kumsal Aslan will help provide depth to the roster.

“They really understand what my expectations are,” said Coach Mac. “You get to a point in a great player-coach environment where you can almost read one another’s minds. We’re getting to that point.”

The Great Danes welcomed six newcomers this season, five freshmen and one junior transfer. Two players, Amanda Kantzy and De’jah Williams, will redshirt this season, while the other four, Kyara Frames, Emma List, Patricia Conroy, and Cece Mayo, expect to see minutes on the floor.

“The freshmen bring a young and energetic excitement,” said Coach Mac. “They don’t mind being critiqued, and they have been really good at not taking things personally and being extremely coachable. They really want to help the team succeed in whatever role they’re given.”

This year, the Great Danes were selected to finish second in the America East in the preseason coaches’ poll. It was the first time in five years the team was not selected first. Top honors went to New Hampshire, last year’s regular season champion behind a conference record of 15-1. The Wildcats were unanimously picked as the conference favorite. 

“One of the more exciting things about the America East is that there is not one style of play,” said Coach Mac. “The coaches are very unique in what style their programs run. We’re not getting the monotony of preparing for the same half-court, full-court, or inside-out style. Rather, depending on the night and team, we’re seeing a whole new brand of basketball, which makes the process more fun and more exciting to coach against.”

As was the case last year, UAlbany will play 13 non-conference games, only five of which are at home. The team will open with two games on the road, including the season opener at Maryland on November 10. It will serve as a homecoming of sorts for Coach Mac, who spent four years at Maryland under head coach Brenda Frese, winning a national title in 2006.

“I’m excited about the game,” said Coach Mac. “I haven’t been back in nearly 10 years, and it will be nice to be on that big stage and see some familiar faces. Our players in practice have turned it up a notch because they know the season is here. Everyone is excited for real games to start. And, for me personally, it will be exciting to play against the mentor who got me to where I am now.”

The Danes will play a second road game on November 16 at Monmouth before hosting their home opener on November 19 against Fordham. A home game on November 22 against Wagner immediately precedes Thanksgiving, after which the team will visit Central Connecticut State on November 27.

A November 30 home game against St. John’s will precede three consecutive road games at Holy Cross on December 3, at Manhattan on December 6, and at Siena on December 9. More than a week will pass before the team’s next game, a home match against St. Bonaventure on December 17.

The highlight of the non-conference schedule is a weeklong trip to Puerto Rico for the San Juan tournament. The team will play Southern Illinois on December 19 and Northern Illinois on December 21 before returning home for the holiday break.

“The tournament fit really well into our non-conference schedule,” said Coach Mac. “The players will have just finished finals, and they won’t be missing classes. We’ll still get back in time for the players to spend four or five days with their families. We took our team to Puerto Rico when I was at Pikeville, so I know what the tournament itself will be like. We don’t know exactly what to expect this year with the devastation from the hurricanes, but from what we understand we should still have a positive experience.”

The non-conference schedule will conclude on Saturday, December 30 with a home game against Dartmouth.

“Going into conference play you want to have your players feel prepared from your non-conference games,” said Coach Mac. “That means having played some games that have challenged us, feeling like we are a cohesive team that can read and know one another well. We want to go into conference as well oiled a machine as possible.”

Conference play begins January 3 at Hartford, the team who gave UAlbany the biggest scare in the America East tournament. On January 6, the Danes welcome preseason favorite New Hampshire to SEFCU Arena. A road game at Stony Brook on January 10 leads into two consecutive home games. First, UAlbany will host Maine on January 13 in the first of two 2016-17 championship game rematches, and then on January 15 the team will host Binghamton. The first time through the conference will end with road games at UMass Lowell on January 18 and UMBC on January 21, and a home game against Vermont on January 24, which will also be Commitment to Education Day. 

“Every night we’re going to get our opponent’s best shot,” said Coach Mac. “Road trips in this conference are tough. It was a big learning curve for me to keep everyone ready on away games, and to prepare our players to take everyone’s best effort in home games. Nobody comes into UAlbany not wanting to beat us.” 

UAlbany will get in a ninth conference game before the calendar turns to February, starting the second round through the America East by hosting Stony Brook on January 27. The Danes will next visit New Hampshire on February 3 before returning home to host UMass Lowell on February 5. February 8 will see the Great Danes visit Vermont before returning to SEFCU Arena to host Hartford on February 11. The final home game of the 2017-18 regular season will be February 17 against UMBC. The Great Danes will end the regular season with two games on the road, at Binghamton on February 22 and at Maine on February 25.

The first two rounds of the America East tournament will once again be played at the Cross Insurance Center in Portland, Maine. The quarterfinals are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday March 3 and 4, and the finals will be played on Friday, March 9 at the highest remaining seed.

UAlbany basketball single game tickets are now on sale for the 2017-18 season. To purchase, contact the UAlbany Ticket office at 518-442-DANE or visit ualbanysports.com/tickets. The women’s first home game is Sunday, November 19 at 2:00 p.m. against Fordham.



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